The Kirkus Prize – and Two Recommendations…

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The finalists for the Kirkus Prize, a new annual award for fiction, nonfiction and young people’s literature were announced today. There are six from each category, and the winners will be announced on October 23.  What makes this new award stand out from a crowded list is the prize – $50,000 each to the three winners. By comparison, the Pulitzer Prize comes with a $10,000 cash prize.

The three judges in the young reader’s category are an impressive group: Dr. Claudette McLinn, the director of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature; Linda Sue Park, the Newbery-winning author of A Single Shard; and John Edward Peters, who has served on the award committees of every major children’s book award.

The six finalists are….

El Deafo by Cece Bell (just read this – see below)

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant (picture book about a very important person in every writer’s life!)

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos (the finale of the Joey Pigza series of middle grade novels)

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston (Admittedly, the first I’ve heard of this young adult fantasy)

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell (so happy about this one! Regular readers may remember a post about Mitchell’s book. If you missed it, here’s a link:

Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth (instructions for building your own bird!)


I moved Cece Bell’s book to the top of the reading list this past weekend – and am not at all surprised that it’s a finalist for the Kirkus Prize. I closed Bell’s touching and inspiring graphic memoir thinking about the award stickers that will certainly be added to the book’s bright blue cover. Cece Bell lost her hearing to meningitis at the age of four. After that, during the school day, she began wearing a Phonic Ear, a listening device, with cords coming out of a box that hangs around her neck- obviously a device she felt uncomfortable about wearing. The Phonic Ear certainly helps Cece to hear at school (sometimes too well), but it’s awkward. The book takes place in the 1970s when the technology wasn’t as subtle as it is today. Her descriptions of learning to read lips is funny, but there are heartbreaking moments, especially when she goes to a slumber party and the other girls continue to talk when the lights go out. It’s especially great that Bell draws her character with rabbit ears, a perfect metaphor for the importance of hearing. We talk a lot with kids about how it might feel to “be different.”  El Deafo could be an essential part of the conversation.


Another book I read this past weekend was on the long list for the Kirkus Prize – The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Told in first person free verse, The Red Pencil is the story of 12-year-old Amira, a Sudanese girl.  At the opening of this moving novel, Amira lives happily in her rural village with her parents and younger sister.  She is especially close to her father whom she calls Dando. “In Dando’s arms, I can fly,” Amira says. The only group she has been taught to fear are the Janjaweed, a militant group who, as Amira’s mother tells her, “attack without warning.”  “If they ever come – run,” she tells her daughter.

Amira lives in a traditional family and, although she desperately wants to attend school, her mother disapproves of girls being educated in things other than caring for her family. After an attack by the Janjaweed, Amira travels to a refugee camp where she continues to dream of school. A visiting teacher gives her the red pencil of the book’s title, and Amira begins, with the support of a kind family friend, to understand the power of words and images.

A final note….the picture at the top of the post was taken at school and was not posed. A colleague called my attention to this cute scene of two brothers waiting for the bus at the end of the day!


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